By Charu Sankaran (BCCRI) and Shannon Snelling (University of Calgary), HQP Working Group members
The 2022 Summit for Cancer Immunotherapy (Summit4CI) was held in Montréal, Québec, and was an incredible success. For many of the attendees, this was the first in-person conference since the pandemic. For many Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP), myself included, this was actually our first in-person conference! The summit began with HQP Day, which provided learning networking opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty. Given all of this excitement, the Summit proved to be a highly collaborative and engaging environment, bringing together a diverse group of attendees.
The HQP Working Group
To provide insight from the HQP perspective for the development of HQP-specific learning activities, this Working Group was formed with HQP from across Canada. The Working Group was chaired by Dr. Harold Atkins (OHRI) and Sarah Ivanco (BioCanRx), with the following members: Shannon Snelling (UofCalgary), Jordan Inkol (UofGuelph), Rebecca Burnett (McMaster), Ana Portillo (McMaster), Charu Sankaran (BCCRI), Stacey Lee (Dalhousie).
HQP Development Day
This year’s HQP Development Day started with a speed networking event where trainees were able to quickly break the ice and have short conversations before moving on. This event helped trainees engage and form connections with other trainees and open up further conversation throughout the conference. This was followed by two Industry talks by Maxime Dumais from Oncopole and Gloria Assaker from GSK. I really enjoyed learning about two different industry roles, as well as how industry partners can contribute to academic research. To further touch on the subject of career paths, there was a Career Insights Panel featuring Dr. Laura Evgin, Dr. Sheila Singh and Dr. Veronique Duqas who represented three different spheres of career paths being academia, clinician scientist, and non-profit/industry respectively. The HQP were able to ask questions and we touched on topics such as how they found their path, overcoming challenges and finding your own success. In the last section, HQP split into breakout rooms, but not on Zoom this time! HQP were able to attend their choice of two talks, from four fantastic speakers. Dr. Jeaneatte Boudreau spoke on failure in academia, and as a trainee, I really resonated with the challenges faced and the importance of perseverance. Dr. Sheila Singh spoke on commercialization of academic discoveries, providing great insight on the process. Dr. Caroline Ilkow provided a workshop on grant and scholarship writing, which provided a framework for better proposal writing. Lastly, Sarah Nersesian spoke on data visualization, which I found very useful, highlighting tools and techniques to improve how we communicate our findings. With that, HQP Development Day was concluded, and the main conference events began with many of the HQP presenting their posters!
This year’s Summit4CI hosted the 5th annual BioCanRx-Cancer Stakeholder Alliance Learning Institute (LI), a knowledge exchange partnership between those who understand cancer through lived experience and those who understand it through their research. Throughout the conference, patient partners and graduate student trainees shared their understandings of topics discussed during plenary talks. We had evocative and important conversations on access to medicines, what matters most to patient communities, disparities in clinical trial access among cancer types, and what true patient partnership looks like. On the last day, leading cancer researchers joined the LI for a roundtable discussion focused on how to initiate meaningful relationships between research groups and patient advocates. As a trainee, I felt privileged to hear about how partnerships can be improved and learn from patient advocates about how we need to change as a community. I was inspired by everyone’s efforts to learn together. At the LI, many people began thinking deeply about how they can initiate joint patient-researcher partnerships. Others are longtime advocates for collaborative research that continue to better the immuno-oncology community with their drive and experience. What I took away from the Institute was that we all need to continue to listen to each other and take action after we have learned. The LI initiated a critical dialogue during Summit4CI that will continue through conversations about how to best converge our efforts to bring cancer immunotherapy to Canadians.
Meet the Experts
Trainees had the opportunity to attend a networking lunch with experts from different fields and career paths. HQP quickly moved from table to table, speaking with each expert, in a “speed dating” style event, and were able to quickly garner advice from these knowledgeable individuals. Dr. Scott McComb provided insight on the role of a government scientist and how this differs from academia. Dr. David Poon spoke on switching paths from academia to business, and Dr. Ismael Samudio talked about finding your motivation and pursuing an industry role. We were lucky to have 12 other fantastic speakers, who gave advice on a diverse number of career paths. The common thread between all of these individuals was this piece of advice: No matter what career path you choose, you will find success if you persevere and are guided by your motivation.
The conference highlighted the work of trainees across Canada through poster presentations, speed-talks and plain language poster talks. Seven fantastic trainees won awards for their outstanding research and presentation skills:
Top Undergrad Student Presenter:
Breeze Gladwin, Deeley Research Centre, Brad Nelson’s Lab
Discovering the clonal evolution and antigen reactivity of tumour infiltrating B cells in ovarian cancer
Top Graduate Student Presenters (MSc and PhD):
Sydney Vallati, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, John Bell’s Lab
Development of novel oncolytic viruses encoding therapeutic payloads for the treatment of RET-positive pancreatic cancers
Lily Chan, University of Guelph, Sarah Wootton’s Lab
Neutrophil responses to dendritic cell-based vaccines: potential for modulation of natural killer cells and CD8+T cell responses
Rebecca Burchett, McMaster University, Jonathan Bramson’s Lab
Putting oncolytic virus vaccines in the driver’s seat: evaluating CARs as a universal boosting platform in adoptive T cell therapies.
Top Post-Doctoral Fellow/Research Associate Presenter:
Courtney Mowat, University of Alberta, Kristi Baker’s Lab
Activation of Sting and Nlrp3 in colorectal cancer enhances the anti-tumour immune response
Top Speed Poster Presenter:
Brian Laight, Queen’s University, Peter Greer’s Lab
Enhancing Anti-Cancer Immunotherapy by Disruption of the non-Receptor Tyrosine Kinase Fes
Plain Language Talk Award Winner:
Talk Title: Evaluation of viral sensitizing antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) and oncolytic virus combination regimen in novel murine models of HER2+ cancer
Poster number: 128
The 2022 Summit4CI conference was a fantastic success that brought together patient community advocates, leading cancer immunotherapy experts, and graduate and postdoctoral trainees for a weekend of learning, networking, and inspiration. We all came out of the conference ready to get back to our important work and excited for the 2023 Summit4CI in Ottawa!